Monday, March 31, 2008

Then Christ's hand reaches out

"Let us then as Christians rejoice that we see around us on every hand the decay of the institutions and instruments of power, see intimations of empires falling to pieces, money in total disarray, dictators and parliamentarians alike nonplussed by the confusion and conflicts which encompass them. For it is precisely when every earthly hope has been explored and found wanting, when every possibility of help from earthly sources has been sought and is not forthcoming, when every recourse this world offers, moral as well as material, has been explored to no effect, when in the shivering cold the last faggot has been thrown on the fire and in the gathering darkness every glimmer of light has finally flickered out, it's then that Christ's hand reaches out sure and firm. Then Christ's words bring inexpressible comfort, then his light shines brightest, abolishing the darkness forever."

Malcolm Muggeridge, The End of Christendom, page 56.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hmmm. The parody is . . . . No, it's . . . .

Where was Tom Douglas when Bob needed some lyrics?

Marginal jottings

In my dad's copy of Lloyd-Jones' Spiritual Depression, pages 56-57, which I now have in my library, dad jotted down some comments in the margin, as he often did in his books. First, Lloyd-Jones asserts,

"Man is a wonderful creature, he is mind, he is heart, and he is will. Those are the three main constituents of man. God has given him a mind, he has given him a heart, he has given him a will whereby he can act. Now one of the greatest glories of the gospel is this, that it takes up the whole man. Indeed, I go so far as to assert that there is nothing else that does that; it is only this complete gospel, this complete view of life and death and eternity, that is big enough to include the whole man."

Then my dad wrote in the margin: "This is often the problem with ministers. They fear anything that has heart in it. So cold, brittle. Unexpandable approach. Very inhibited in presentation. So careful to be respectable and approved."

The gospel engages all that we are. By God's grace, let's show it tomorrow at church.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A grateful sense of high privilege

"Hence, though a man of sorrow, [Christ] was even on earth anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows [Psalm 45:7]. . . . Shall we wonder that there was divine gladness in the heart of him who came into the world not by constraint but willingly, not with a burning sense of wrong but with a grateful sense of high privilege . . . ?"

A. B. Bruce, quoted in B. B. Warfield, "The Emotional Life of our Lord," in The Person and Work of Christ, page 126, footnote 84.

The ministry today can be motivated either by a burning sense of wrong or by a grateful sense of high privilege. It is possible to build a church with the energy of a burning sense of wrong. There are angry Christians who don't like the way things are going and will rally around someone who validates their anger. But is that the gospel at work?

The apostles did not fuss and wring their hands and moan, "What's the world coming to?" They gladly announced, "Look what's come to the world!" Like Christ, they had a grateful sense of high privilege. And the impact was an explosion of joy that has been setting people free for 2000 years -- and is showing no signs of fatigue.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The gospel for you, for me, right now

My thanks to Zach Nielsen.

Aflame for God

"The idea of being on fire for Christ will strike some people as dangerous emotionalism. 'Surely,' they will say, 'we are not meant to go to extremes? You are not asking us to become hot-gospel fanatics?' Well, wait a minute. It depends what you mean. If by 'fanaticism' you really mean 'wholeheartedness' then Christianity is a fanatical religion and every Christian should be a fanatic. But fanaticism is not wholeheartedness, nor is wholeheartedness fanaticism. Fanaticism is an unreasoning and unintelligent wholeheartedness. It is the running away of the heart with the head. At the end of a statement prepared for a conference on science, philosophy and religion at Princeton University in 1940 came these words: 'Commitment without reflection is fanaticism in action; but reflection without commitment is the paralysis of all action.' What Jesus Christ desires and deserves is the reflection which leads to commitment and the commitment which is born of reflection. This is the meaning of wholeheartedness, of being aflame for God."

John R. W. Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church, pages 116-117.

Five dollar fine

New ground-rules for the Ortlund household in Nashville. Man alive, I'm goin' broke!

Check this out: LINK

Absolutely perfect

"I mean then by the Supreme Being one who is simply self-dependent and the only Being who is such; moreover, that He is without beginning or eternal, and the only eternal; that in consequence He has lived a whole eternity by Himself; and hence that He is all-sufficient, sufficient for His own blessedness, and all-blessed and ever-blessed. Further, I mean a Being who, having these prerogatives, has the Supreme Good, or rather is the Supreme Good, or has all the attributes of Good in infinite intenseness; all wisdom, all truth, all justice, all love, all holiness, all beautifulness; who is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent; ineffably one, absolutely perfect; and such, that what we do not know and cannot even imagine of Him is far more wonderful than what we do and can."

John Henry Newman, On the Scope and Nature of University Education, pages 53-54.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart

"The spiritual perception of divine things is invariably accompanied with a sanctifying influence, and knowledge is no further genuine or spiritual than as it leads to this result. When it is a mere natural and intellectual perception of divine things, the mind is only elated (1 Corinthians 8:2), not imbued with the humility which is the effect of all true spiritual knowledge. When it is a perception which takes its rise from the Holy Spirit, and is kindled by the contemplation of the divine perfections, excellence and glory, the taste is so changed that it is separated from the pleasures of sin. They who have a spiritual perception of the divine beauty of God our Savior are drawn by a high attraction and induced to forgo not only the sins but the pleasures, emoluments and distinctions which absorb men's present thoughts. The knowledge of God, taught by the Spirit, is invariably connected with a new spiritual relish, or a new sense, which inclines the mind to rest in God as better than the creation -- to regard sin as repulsive and holiness as the only element in which the mind delights to dwell."

George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, pages 254-255

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The wonder of God's love for me

I thank my son Gavin for giving me this CD, and I thank my son Dane for drawing my attention to this video.

The other way round

"Nothing is so beautiful and wonderful, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy, as the good. No desert is so dreary, monotonous, and boring as evil. This is the truth about authentic good and evil. With fictional good and evil it is the other way round. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied and intriguing, attractive, profound, and full of charm."

Simone Weil, 1909-1943

Monday, March 24, 2008

The whole object of being a Christian

Preaching on Romans 7:1-4, Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, "We must realize that as married to the Lord Jesus Christ we are in a position to know his love in a way which no one else can do. It is to his bride that the bridegroom reveals and manifests his love. 'Therefore,' says the Apostle Paul, 'husbands, love your wives.' How? 'even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.' That is how husbands are to love their wives. The words give us some indication of his love to us as Christian people. It is his peculiar, intimate love; it is a manifestation of his feelings, of his affections, which he shows to no one else. This is the peculiar treasure and privilege of the bride. Christian people, it is because we do not know our Scriptures that we live as we do; it is because we are ignorant of these Scriptures that we too often live as paupers instead of realizing that we are married to a Prince. The manifestation of his love! What do we know about that? A hymn reminds us that, 'The love of Jesus, what it is, none but his loved ones know.' The world knows nothing about that! It cannot know. It has never felt it; nor can it do so. What the world will know is 'the wrath of the Lamb.' Do you know the love of Christ? He has promised to show it. He said, 'I will manifest myself unto you.' He does not manifest himself to any but the bride.

Has he spoken to you? Has he said to you, 'As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters'? Has he ever said to you, whispered to you, 'My beloved is mine'? Read the Song of Solomon and see how the bridegroom expresses his feeling to his bride, his love. How lightly we skip over these great statements so that we may argue about our pet ideas and theories! In one sense the whole object of being a Christian is that you may know the love of Jesus Christ, his personal love to you; that he may tell you in unmistakable language that he loves you, that he has given himself for you, that he has loved you with 'an everlasting love.' He does this through the Holy Spirit; he 'seals' all his statements to you through the Spirit. 'The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirits' (Romans 8:16). He tells you directly. You believe it because it is in the Word; but there is more than that; he will tell you this directly as a great secret. The Spirit gives manifestations of the Son of God to his own, to his beloved, to those for whom he has gladly died and given himself."

D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Romans 7:1-8:4, pages 60-61.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sonnet for Easter Sunday

Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day
didst make thy triumph over death and sin,
and having harrowed hell, didst bring away
captivity thence captive, us to win;
this joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin,
and grant us that we for whom thou diddest die,
being with thy dear blood clean washed from sin,
may live for ever in felicity;
and that thy love we weighing worthily,
may likewise love thee for the same again,
and for thy sake, that all like dear didst buy,
with love may one another entertain;
so let us love, dear Love, like as we ought,
love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.

Edmund Spenser, 1595

Friday, March 21, 2008

"It is finished"

In his collected Works, Volume I, page 61, John Flavel, the Puritan pastor, helps us imagine the conversation between the Father and the Son in eternity past, planning our salvation. With the language updated a bit, it goes like this:

"Father: My Son, here is a company of poor miserable souls that have utterly undone themselves and now lie open to my justice. Justice demands satisfaction for them or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them. What shall be done for these souls?

Son: O my Father, such is my love and pity for them that, rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Guarantee. Bring in all your bills, that I may see what they owe you. Lord, bring them all in, that there may be no after-reckonings with them. At my hand you shall require it. I will rather choose to suffer your wrath than they should suffer it. Upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.

Father: But my Son, if you undertake for them, you must reckon to pay the last cent. Expect no discounts. If I spare them, I will not spare you.

Son: Content, Father. Let it be so. Charge it all to me. I am able to pay it. And though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures, yet I am content to undertake it."

On that Good Friday so long ago, the ancient agreement was fulfilled. He paid it all, down to the last cent. It is finished.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Always something new

"There are certain things which have to be said over and over again, of necessity, and yet this is the marvel and the wonder of the cross, that however many times a man may preach about it, he has never finished preaching about it. There is always something fresh to say, always something new. There is a great central message that is always there, but nothing is so wonderful as to see that one thing in different ways . . . . During these twenty-six years in my Westminster pulpit there have been times when in my utter folly I have wondered, or the devil has suggested to me, that there is nothing more for me to say, that I have preached it all. I thank God that I can now say that I feel I am only at the beginning of it. There is no end to this glorious message of the cross, for there is always something new and fresh and entrancing and moving and uplifting that one has never seen before."

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Cross, pages 155-156.

God makes amazing human beings - 4

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

God makes amazing human beings - 3

God makes amazing human beings - 2

God makes amazing human beings - 1

Not I, but the grace of God

"In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them." 2 Corinthians 5:19

"When we receive that message and accept the forgiveness of our sins, then we begin to be set free from ourselves. Because God does not reckon unto us our trespasses, we will not reckon unto us our virtues. Our confession will be: Not I, but the grace of God."

D. M. Baillie, God Was In Christ: An Essay on Incarnation and Atonement, page 202.

Email and the Bible

Have you ever sent an email you later regretted? I sure have. Email may be the crudest form of communication ever invented. It lacks nuance, warmth, interactivity; but it is irretrievable and can be proliferated through forwards to anyone anywhere. The following biblical passages come to mind.

"Let all things be done for building up" (1 Corinthians 14:26). All things in all aspects of the church, without one exception. If then an email is not positive, constructive and uplifting, it's better to pick up the phone -- or better yet, actually get with the other person. That would not guarantee edification, but delicate conversations via email stand little chance of success.

"Whoever restrains his words has knowledge" (Proverbs 17:27). Even when one does exercise restraint in composing an email, it just doesn't come across as restraint to the person receiving it. Email seems incapable of communicating restraint, even with good intentions. Wise restraint may require silence. But if silence is not an option and one must risk the possible "feel" of lack of restraint, then the least desirable medium is email.

"We pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face" (1 Thessalonians 3:10). Paul never prayed trivial prayers. He invested his earnest, night-and-day prayers only for those few things that matter most, like seeing one another face to face! Face to face conversations have an almost mystical power to soften, to win, to spread everything honoring to Christ and delightful to us.

God didn't send us an email. Well, maybe the tablets of stone on Sinai came close. But the greatest communication from God was when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory (John 1:14).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dylan: nasal, prophetic, truer than himself

Not __________, but Christ

"The one true goal or resting place where doubt and weariness, the stings of a pricking conscience and the longings of an unsatisfied soul would all be quieted is Christ himself. Not the church, but Christ. Not doctrine, but Christ. Not forms, but Christ. Not ceremonies, but Christ. Christ, the God-man, giving his life for ours, sealing the everlasting covenant and making peace for us through the blood of his cross. Christ the divine storehouse of all light and truth, 'in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.' Christ the infinite vessel, filled with the Holy Spirit, the Enlightener, the Teacher, the Comforter, so that 'of his fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.' This, this alone, is the vexed soul's refuge, its rock to build on, its home to abide in, till the great tempter be bound and every conflict ended in victory."

Horatius Bonar, Words to Winners of Souls, page 11.

What is the way out?

"For the past few days I have been experimenting in a more complete surrender than ever before. I am taking, by deliberate act of the will, enough time from each hour to give God much thought. . . . You will object to this intense introspection. Do not try it, unless you feel dissatisfied with your own relationship with God, but at least allow me to realize all the leadership of God I can. I am disgusted with the pettiness and futility of my unled self. If the way out is not more perfect slavery to God, then what is the way out?"

Frank C. Laubach, Letters by a Modern Mystic, pages 11-12.

Monday, March 17, 2008

True religion

"Wilberforce believed that there was a real force for evil in the world and that man had to contend with this as well as his own natural depravity. And yet, 'the grand defect of the bulk of professed Christians' was that they did not feel encumbered by sin. What gave Wilberforce particular cause for grief was that what he called the more decent and moral of his contemporaries seemed oblivious to real religion as he knew it."

Patrick Cormack, Wilberforce: The Nation's Conscience, page 80.

"I cannot speak of religion but I must lament that among so many pretenders to it so few understand what it means. . . . True religion is a union of the soul with God, a real participation of the divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul, or, in the apostle's phrase, it is 'Christ formed within us.'"

Henry Scougal, The Life of God in the Soul of Man, pages 15-16.

"The climactic realization of this covenantal bond, this reciprocal possession between the triune God and his people, the church, centers for Paul in union with Christ. This . . . is the central truth of salvation for Paul, the key soteriological reality comprising all others."

Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., By Faith, Not By Sight, page 36.

If we hold to the audacious belief that there is one true religion and that Christianity is that one true religion, then let's communicate clearly and constantly what Christianity is and what it is not, so that no one can mistake what we stand for. True religion is not morality, not politics, not a culture war, not a better way to raise kids, not therapy, not hipness, not a right good scolding, not anti-pharisaism, and a lot more. True religion is union with Christ.

An overwhelming first destabilizing many balances

"It is not possible to be 'incidentally a Christian.' The fact of Christianity must be overwhelmingly first or nothing. This suggests a reason for the dislike of Christians by nominal or non-Christians: their lives contain no overwhelming firsts but many balances."

Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy, pages 86-87.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Remorse vs. repentance

"Remorse weeps for lost innocence, regretting that it no longer has the innocence with which to go out into sin afresh, but repentance weeps in the presence of God, because it has grieved the One who is righteous and who is holy."

Donald Grey Barnhouse, God's Methods for Holy Living, page 132.

A Christian duty

"There is great good in bearing sorrow patiently; I don't know that there is any virtue in sorrow just as such. It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can."

C. S. Lewis, in Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy, page 189.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Family values"

When John and Charles Wesley sailed for Georgia to serve Christ (though still deficient in their grasp of Christ), their mother said, "Had I twenty sons, I should rejoice that they were all so employed, though I should never see them more."

A. Skevington Wood, The Inextinguishable Blaze, page 104.

And when Adoniram Judson, headed toward foreign missions, wanted to marry Ann Hasseltine, he asked her father for permission with these words,

"I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean, to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home and died for her and for you, for the sake of perishing, immortal souls, for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?"

John Piper, Don't Waste Your Life, page 158.

No family is perfect. We certainly are not. But God uses imperfect people who are yielded to him. And Jani and I make it our lifetime prayer, "Lord, let the whole world hear about Jesus Christ through our family." It is difficult to imagine a greater privilege. It is equally difficult to imagine that prayer being answered without suffering.

May Jesus Christ be praised, whatever the cost. For Jani and me, that is "family values."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Deliberate focus

"Looking to Jesus." Hebrews 12:2

"It is not possible to express in English the thought suggested by this verb, which implies that we must 'look away (from other things) unto Jesus.' It implies 'the concentration of the wandering gaze into a single direction.'"

F. W. Farrar, Hebrews (CGTSC), page 153.

"Looking away from all that distracts on earth . . . not only at the first moment but constantly during the whole struggle. . . . Christ is always near and in sight."

B. F. Westcott, Hebrews, pages 394-395.

"[Looking] implies . . . concentrated attention . . . 'with no eyes for anyone or anything except Jesus.'"

James Moffatt, Hebrews (ICC), page 196.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

No virtue without a miracle

"Went on reading St. Augustine. Interested to note that he left Carthage, where he had been teaching, to go to Rome because in Carthage his students were so undisciplined ("the license of the students is gross, and beyond all measure"). Convinced more than ever that St. Augustine, and those like him, alone have found the answer to life, which is to 'slaughter our self-conceits like birds, the curiosities by which we voyage through the secret ways of the abyss like the fish of the sea, our carnal lusts like the beasts of the field' in order that 'you, O God, you the consuming fire, should burn up those dead cares and renew the men themselves to immortal life.' Walking around St. James' Park I thought intensely of the difference between Tolstoy and St. Augustine. Tolstoy tried to achieve virtue, and particularly continence, through the exercise of his will; St. Augustine saw that, for man, there is no virtue without a miracle. Thus St. Augustine's asceticism brought him serenity, and Tolstoy's anguish, conflict, and the final collapse of his life into tragic buffoonery."

Malcolm Muggeridge, writing in his diary, 26-27 March 1951, as recorded in Like It Was: The Diaries of Malcolm Muggeridge, page 434.

Authentic Christianity is more than a mechanism for intensified will-power over our temptations. Authentic Christianity is miracle through-and-through. It is, as Henry Scougal put it, "the life of God in the soul of man." It is, as Thomas Chalmers put it, "the expulsive power of a new affection." It is, as Jesus put it, "abiding in me."

Every one of us is so massively ordinary. Still more, we are sinners who break out in a rash at the approach of God our only true Friend. But the good news is that that Friend works miracles of love in ordinary, evil people who don't even want him around, people who continually oscillate between self-hating moral failure and self-exalting moral success. The miraculous virtue he creates comes through a Spirit-imparted bright new awareness and embrace of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners:

"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

That is miracle, that is Christianity, and that is what God is doing in the world today.

The questions I never stop asking are, Is that miracle my experience today, right now? If not, how can I get back into that zone? Is that miracle our corporate experience at church? If not, how must we adjust to stay in that zone where God, God, God is at work with his unmistakable power?

I just don't want anything else. Only having correct doctrine, important as that is, and biblical structures and attractive programs, etc. -- reducing Christianity to the humanly manageable is unendurable to me. The miracle is too desirable. Lord, make my life a miracle. Make my church a miracle.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pressing on

"Explorers in the realm of the spirit are like Columbus when he landed on a new continent and did not know what lay beyond. We probably have only just reached the beach-heads of prayer. A vast unknown continent lies beyond us to be explored, conquered and cultivated. Nothing is so thrilling as discovery. Every Christian can and should join in the highest of all adventures in the most wonderful of all worlds, the world of the spirit. Nobody need leave home nor give up his work, for he has his mind with him every minute, and it is in the mind that this exploration is carried on."

Frank C. Laubach, Prayer, page 50.

Better than life

Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. Psalm 63:3

"It is better not to exist than to exist without God's favor. It is better to die enjoying his lovingkindness than to live without it."

William S. Plumer, Psalms, page 631.

Where orthodoxy is optional

"I’ll presume to call it Neuhaus’ Law, or at least one of his several laws: Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed. Some otherwise bright people have indicated their puzzlement with that axiom but it seems to me, well, axiomatic. Orthodoxy, no matter how politely expressed, suggests that there is a right and a wrong, a true and a false, about things. When orthodoxy is optional, it is admitted under a rule of liberal tolerance that cannot help but be intolerant of talk about right and wrong, true and false. It is therefore a conditional admission, depending upon orthodoxy’s good behavior. The orthodox may be permitted to believe this or that and to do this or that as a matter of sufferance, allowing them to indulge their inclination, preference, or personal taste. But it is an intolerable violation of the etiquette by which one is tolerated if one has the effrontery to propose that this or that is normative for others."

Richard John Neuhaus, "Under the Shadow," First Things, January 1997.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


"There, even in heaven, dwells the God from whom every stream of holy love, yea, every drop that is, or ever was, proceeds. There dwells God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, united as one, in infinitely dear and incomprehensible and mutual and eternal love. There dwells God the Father, who is the father of mercies, and so the father of love, who so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son to die for it. There dwells Christ, the Lamb of God, the prince of peace and of love, who so loved the world that he shed his blood and poured out his soul unto death for men. . . . And there dwells the Holy Spirit -- the Spirit of divine love, in whom the very essence of God, as it were, flows out and is breathed forth in love and by whose immediate influence all holy love is shed abroad in the hearts of all the saints on earth and in heaven. There, in heaven, this infinite fountain of love -- this eternal Three in One -- is set open without any obstacle to hinder access to it, as it flows forever. There this glorious God is manifested and shines forth in full glory, in beams of love. And there this glorious fountain forever flows forth in streams, yea, in rivers of love and delight, and these rivers swell, as it were, to an ocean of love, in which the souls of the ransomed may bathe with the sweetest enjoyment, and their hearts, as it were, be deluged with love!"

Jonathan Edwards, Charity and its Fruits, pages 327-328.

Monday, March 10, 2008

"He empowers me"

"I can feelingly say, he hath proved himself stronger than I and his goodness superior to all my unworthiness. He tells me (and enables me to believe it) that I am fair, and there is no spot in me. Though an enemy, he calls me his friend; though a traitor, a child; though a beggared prodigal, he clothes me with the best robe and has put a ring of endless love and mercy on my hand. And though I am sorely distressed by spiritual and internal foes, afflicted, tormented and bowed down almost to death with the sense of my own present barrenness, ingratitude and proneness to evil, he secretly shows me his bleeding wounds and softly and powerfully whispers to my soul, 'I am thy great salvation.' His free distinguishing grace is the bottom on which is fixed the rest of my poor weary tempted soul. On this I ground my hope, often times when unsupported by any other evidence, save only the Spirit of adoption received from him. When my dry and empty barren soul is parched with thirst, he kindly bids me come to him and drink my fill at the fountainhead. In a word, he empowers me to say with experiential evidence, 'Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.' Amen and amen."

Joseph Hart (1712-1768), quoted in Peter C. Rae, "Joseph Hart and His Hymns," Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 6 (1988): 22-23.

John Wesley's rules for Methodist evangelists

"1. Be diligent. Never be unemployed for a moment; never be trifingly employed. Never while away time; neither spend any more time at any place than is strictly necessary.

2. Be serious. Let your motto be, Holiness to the Lord. Avoid all lightness, jesting and foolish talking.

3. Converse sparingly and cautiously with women, particularly with young women in private.

4. Take no step towards marriage without first acquainting me with your design.

5. Believe evil of no one; unless you see it done, take heed how you credit it. Put the best construction on everything; you know the judge is always supposed to be on the prisoner's side.

6. Speak evil of no one; else your words especially would eat as doth a canker. Keep your thoughts within your own breast til you come to the person concerned.

7. Tell every one what you think wrong in him, and that plainly, and as soon as may be, else it will fester in your heart. Make all haste to cast the fire out of your bosom.

8. Do not affect the gentleman. You have no more to do with this character than with that of a dancing-master. A preacher of the gospel is the servant of all.

9. Be ashamed of nothing but sin; not of fetching wood (if time permit), or of drawing water; not of cleaning your own shoes, or your neighbor's.

10. Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time; and, in general, do not mend our rules, but keep them; not for wrath but for conscience's sake.

11. You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go always not to those who want you, but to those who want you most.

12. Act in all things not according to your own will but as a son in the gospel. As such, it is your part to employ your time in the manner which we direct, partly in preaching and visiting the flock from house to house; partly in reading, meditation and prayer. Above all, if you labor with us in the Lord's vineyard, it is needful that you should do that part of the work which we advise, at those times and places which we judge most for His glory."

Quoted in J. C. Ryle, The Christian Leaders of the Last Century, page 86.

Some of Wesley's rules will strike us today as meaningful, even obvious. Others of them will strike us as extreme and regimenting, especially outside an episcopal system of governance. One consideration that might make his position appear less strident in its demands is this. For a combat unit going into warfare, the disciplines of military life make sense. The soldiers know that the success of their mission, and their very lives, depend on every man being at his best.

Men of war accept disciplines that civilians might not even understand.

We are weak, the truth is strong

I apologize for the advertisement component in this video. But this story makes a point. Bob Dylan is weak. We are weak. But the truth, with all its flinty objectivity, stands outside our weakness. It points us to the One who is mighty to save (Isaiah 63:1). That good news is the bedrock under our feet, however our mood at the moment might be knocking us around. "Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything" (1 John 3:20). Tethered to him, our weak faith can take a strong stand.

I pray that my witness will not require a "bracing reinterpretation" by someone else in order to survive. O Lord, fill me with such faith that my life statement is authentic, prophetic.

By the way, one of commentators here says that Dylan was "scorned and abused" in his concerts when he came out with "Slow Train Coming" and "Saved." Jani and I saw him in concert in San Francisco at this time. It was the greatest concert we've ever attended. There was no scorn, except for the devil.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Power always on the frontiers

"Look around today and see where the miracles of power are taking place. Never in the seminary where each thought is prepared for the student, to be received painlessly and at second hand; never in the religious institution where tradition and habit have long ago made faith unnecessary; never in the old church where memorial tablets plastered over the furniture bear silent testimony to a glory that once was. Invariably where daring faith is struggling to advance against hopeless odds, there is God sending 'help from the sanctuary.'"

A. W. Tozer, "Miracles follow the plow," in The Best of A. W. Tozer, page 242.

We forgive the overstatement here. A seminary, for example, can be a force for revival. But there's no denying the temptations in becoming established, and Christian history is littered with the wreckage of churches, denominations, seminaries, movements and institutions that in their very success went into a death spiral. We never outgrow our need for renewal; we only prove that need.

To be thrust onto absolute dependence on God is a privilege and advantage. James 1:9-10 applies broadly: "Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away."

Saturday, March 8, 2008

He heeded his own exhortation

"Perhaps cancer or some other debilitating disease has invaded your body, and you suspect that you do not have a very long time to live. 'What a waste,' you are saying. 'Why can't I be strong and healthy and live a long, long life?' I do not know the answer to that. What God does with us in detail is not revealed in Scripture. It is one of the secret things that belong to God only. But that does not mean the painful path he calls you to walk has no purpose. It is how you conduct yourself in such 'wasting times' that is the stuff of victory.

Set an example for us by lifting your eyes from what is material and tangible and passing away, and point us to him who is invisible and who does everything well. Show us how light and momentary these earthly troubles are. We need to know that. Show us how they are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all."

James Montgomery Boice, Romans, III:1447.

Thank you for showing us, Dr. Boice.

The worst kind of evil

"The worst kind of evil is the wrong kind of love, love that clutches and possesses rather than loosening and liberating. . . . That is Lewis' final statement on evil. Essentially, it is the wrong kind of love. . . . What the evil man calls love is only a sort of hunger aimed at the total consumption of the emotional lives of those around him. What he calls justice is the selfish granting of his own welfare and pleasure, whether on a personal or a universal scale. And what he calls good is that which will benefit his own aims at the expense or despite the needs of those around him. He is evil not because he wills to be an evil man but because he can do nothing else but will his own narrow desires."

Janice Witherspoon Neulieb, reviewing Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis, in Christianity Today, 28 March 1975, page 16.

More important than the future of the church

Dr. Ralph Winter, Director of the U.S. Center for World Mission, wrote in "Six Essential Components of World Evangelization," William Carey Library, pages 3-4:

"We may do well to recognize what seems to be the consistent thrust of the whole Bible—that unless and until, in faith, the future of the world becomes more important than the future of the church, the church has no future. As Jesus put it, the most dangerous thing you can do is seek to save your life . . . ."

Quoted in John Piper, "Make a case for your hope," sermon preached at Bethlehem Baptist Church, 19 October 1980.

This cheerful mortal

"Long before, on his rounds of Boston as a young lawyer, Adams had often heard a man with a fine voice singing behind the door of an obscure house. One day, curious to know who 'this cheerful mortal' might be, he had knocked at the door, to find a poor shoemaker with a large family living in a single room. Did he find it hard getting by, Adams had asked. 'Sometimes,' the man said. Adams ordered a pair of shoes. 'I had scarcely got out the door before he began to sing again like a nightingale,' Adams remembered. 'Which was the greatest philosopher? Epictetus or this shoemaker?' he would ask when telling the story."

David McCullough, John Adams, pages 570-571.

Friday, March 7, 2008

A dangerous emotion

"But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, said to the people, 'There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on one of those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.'" Luke 13:14

He was indignant. His moral fervor was aroused. So he took it upon himself to set things right. He did not notice he was opposing a divine healing -- the kind of life-giving for which the Sabbath was created.

In the heart of God, moral fervor is beautiful. In the heart of a sinner, moral fervor is complicated.

Here are some diagnostics that help me when I feel myself slipping into moral fervor: "Even if I'm right in this situation, am I trusting God? Am I trusting him enough to be willing to lose and look stupid, or is this really about me? God might be doing a work of healing here that I'm blind to at the moment. Okay, Lord, what do you want me to do right now, at this moment, that might be counterintuitive and costly but consistent with your life-giving ways?"

How the pastors studied the Bible

The following eye-witness account of how the pastors of Zurich studied the Bible (in this case, an Old Testament passage) during the Reformation comes from G. H. Box, "Hebrew Studies in the Reformation Period and After," in The Legacy of Israel, edited by E. R. Bevan and C. Singer, pages 345-347:

"This gathering began with intercessions. Uniting in common forms of prayers, they supplicated the almighty and merciful God, whose word is a lantern unto our feet and a light unto our paths, to open and lighten our mind that we might understand his oracles purely and holily and be transformed into that which we had rightly understood and that in this we might in no way displease his majesty, through Christ our Lord.

After prayers, a very young man, a scholar of the church, read over side by side with the Vulgate, which they call Jerome's version, that passage at which they had, in the due progress of exegesis, arrived for discussion. . . .

When the young man had read in Latin the passage which came up for discussion, a Hebrew reader rose and repeated the passage in Hebrew, occasionally pointing out the idioms and peculiarities of the language, sometimes giving a rendering of the sense, sometimes translating word for word, and moreover reading the comments of the Grammarians and Rabbis. . . .

The Greek reader followed the Hebrew. He ran through the Septuagint, or whatever Greek translation it might be, compared it with the Hebrew and showed how far it differed from it. Sometimes too he emended it, and always fixed his attention on it with unflagging carefulness. . . .

The words which had now been read in Latin, in Greek and in Hebrew were enunciated with the utmost conscientiousness and complete good faith. He showed how the present passage had been treated by the old writers, what the Jewish commentators had thought about it and what the Catholic. He taught what it had in common with sacred literature, the putting together, coherence and force of the words, the sublimity and high morality of their meanings, the strength of substance and delicacy of style to which everything must be referred -- in short, he expounded the real meaning, and also the profit and use of this passage and how a lesson in faith, devotion, piety, justice and loyalty might be learned from it."

Richard Lovelace, in Dynamics of Spiritual Life, page 183, writes, "In our quest for the fullness of the Spirit, we have sometimes forgotten that a Spirit-filled intelligence is one of the powerful weapons for pulling down satanic strongholds." And a Spirit-filled intelligence devoted to careful study of the Bible is the [definite article] most powerful weapon in this liberating mission.

My brother pastors, with all the other things we will do today, let's give ourselves to study!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Isaiah 65:17

C. S. Lewis reminded us that evil is not ultimate, nor does it rival ultimacy, but is derivative and parasitic. And because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, it is temporary. The gospel promises that the Lord will create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind (Isaiah 65:17). The "former things" that will fade away, then, are not the creation but the evils and sorrows forced on the creation through our sin. The creation will be "set free" (Romans 8:21). This video suggests in a faint way -- and in reverse chronological order with each pair of photographs -- how humane and enduring is the goodness of God in his creation which not even our sin can destroy.

Praise the Lord for his overruling goodness! We have so much to look forward to.

I thank Gaye Clark for directing my attention to this video.

What is spiritual worship?

"Spiritual desires for God render the service spiritual; when the soul 'follows hard after him' (Psalm lxiii. 8); pursues after God as a God of infinite and communicative goodness, with sighs and groans unutterable. A spiritual soul seems to be transformed into hunger and thirst, and becomes nothing but desire. A carnal worshiper is taken with the beauty and magnificence of the temple; a spiritual worshiper desires to see the glory of God in the sanctuary (Psalm lxiii. 2), he pants after God; as he comes to worship, to find God, he boils up in desires for God and is loath to go from it without God, 'the living God' (Psalm xlii. 2). . . . That deserves not the title of spiritual worship, when the soul makes no longing inquiries, 'Saw you him whom my soul loves?' A spiritual worship is when our desires are chiefly for God in the worship; as David desires to dwell in the house of the Lord; but his desire is not terminated there, but to behold the beauty of the Lord (Psalm xxvii. 4), and taste the ravishing sweetness of his presence. . . . To desire worship as an end is carnal; to desire it as a means . . . is spiritual and the fruit of a spiritual life."

Stephen Charnock, Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God, I:232-233.

The Lord has given himself

"Though closely allied to salvation, redemption is more specific, for it denotes the means by which salvation is achieved, namely, by the payment of a ransom. . . . No word in the Christian vocabulary deserves to be held more precious than Redeemer, for even more than Savior it reminds the child of God that his salvation has been purchased at a great and personal cost, for the Lord has given himself for our sins in order to deliver us from them."

Everett F. Harrison, "Redeemer, Redemption," in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, pages 918-919.

He took them in his arms

"And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, 'Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.' And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them." Mark 10:13-16

"If the disciples thought children too small or too unimportant for the serious work of the kingdom, they were wrong. Jesus welcomes children, takes them in his arms and declares that of such is the kingdom of heaven. The force of his words is clear. He does not say merely that the kingdom of heaven is for the childlike. He says that the kingdom belongs to them; it is made up of children and of those who come as children."

Edmund P. Clowney, The Church, page 283.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

My dad's speech

Many times as I was growing up, my dad had a certain speech he pulled out with me and my sisters. It went something like this: "I don't care if you grow up to be a ditch-digger. But you must be all-out for Christ. If you're half-hearted, you'll only feel guilty and miserable. But if you give yourself to him wholly, your life will be rich and full."

At the time, my unspoken response too often was "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Typical." But he was right. Wonderfully right.

"These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:11). Leon Morris, in his commentary on John, pages 673-674, writes concerning this verse, "It is no cheerless barren existence that Jesus plans for his people. But the joy of which he speaks comes only as they are wholehearted in their obedience to his commands. To be halfhearted is to get the worst of both worlds. . . . The Christian life is not some shallow, insipid following of a traditional pattern. It is a life characterized by 'unexhausted (and inexhaustible) power for fresh creation.'"

I just had lunch with a brother in his 80s. His off-the-cuff comment as we walked out of the restaurant: "God has given me a happy heart." He did not say this with any sense of "And this is true in spite of the crosses I am so heroically bearing," though he faces the challenges we all share, plus some. He said it with a bubbly lightness of spirit that was fully credible. It is Christ living through his wholehearted faith.

Thanks, dad. Thanks, Leonard. Count me in!

Amazing days

"By 1500 a good Latinist could find as many jobs open to him as a psychologist today; a mediocre Graecist could find students eager to pay him almost anywhere in Europe; and any sort of Hebraist at all could cause a stir by hanging out his scholarly shingle. In the hottest part of a Paris summer a young Italian Humanist, Aleander, announced a series of lectures on a third-rate Roman poet, Ausonius. Two thousand people turned out for the first lecture and listened for two hours and a half -- according to the lecturer, with no signs of fatigue. On the third day, all the seats were taken at eleven o'clock although the lecture did not begin until one. It is a famous story not because it was unusual, but because it was fairly typical of the Humanist and his audience during the classical revival."

E. Harris Harbison, The Christian Scholar in the Age of the Reformation, pages 33-34.

God is able to awaken again a passion for knowledge that will serve the larger cause of spiritual revival and reformation.

A promise-keeping God

"From the depths of hell I call the fiends, and from the earth I call the tried and afflicted believers, and to heaven I appeal, and challenge the long experience of the blood-washed host, and there is not to be found in the three realms a single person who can bear witness to one fact which can disprove the faithfulness of God or weaken his claim to be trusted by his servants. There are many things that may or may not happen, but this I know shall happen --

He shall present my soul unblemished and complete
Before the glory of his face with joys divinely great.

All the purposes of man have been defeated, but not the purposes of God. He is a promise-keeping God, and every one of his people shall prove it to be so."

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, quoted in Charles Erlandson, editor, Charles H. Spurgeon: The Best from all his Works, page 266.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A wasted life

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23

It isn't this sin here or that sin there, primarily, however bad each one might be. More deeply, we fall short of thrilling to and honoring and reflecting the glory of God back to him and to one another. That is the arch-sin of a wasted life.

But them, even them, he glorified (Romans 8:30).

The social conscience of wisdom

"The righteous are willing to disadvantage themselves to advantage the community; the wicked are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves."

Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15, page 97.

No longer need for hiding

"For a while the king sat silent. At last he spoke, 'So we come to it in the end,' he said: 'the great battle of our time, in which many things shall pass away. But at least there is no longer need for hiding.'"

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, page 784.

My conceit just began peeling off

"When I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn't go to the churches and Gospel Halls. . . . I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit in it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren't fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit."

C. S. Lewis, God In The Dock, pages 61-62.

Little moments

"A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest . . . ." Proverbs 24:33

"Your danger and mine is not that we become criminals, but rather that we become respectable, decent, commonplace, mediocre Christians. The twentieth-century temptations that really sap our spiritual power are the television, banana cream pie, the easy chair and the credit card. The Christian wins or loses in those seemingly innocent little moments of decision. Lord, make my life a miracle!"

Raymond C. Ortlund, Lord, Make My Life A Miracle, page 151.

Monday, March 3, 2008

I pray that you will stay with God

Larry Norman died last week. For those of us younger than I am, which is nearly everyone by now, Larry Norman, with a few others, reinvented Christian music for my generation and for the rest of us during the Jesus Movement of around 1969-1972. I was thankful for his influence then, as I am thankful for every new breakthrough today. Every age has its own needs.

Larry's website posts his final message, dictated to his brother just before he died:

"I feel like a prize in a box of cracker jacks with God's hand reaching down to pick me up. I have been under medical care for months. My wounds are getting bigger. I have trouble breathing. I am ready to fly home.

My brother Charles is right, I won't be here much longer. I can't do anything about it. My heart is too weak. I want to say goodbye to everyone. In the past you have generously supported me with prayer and finance and we will probably still need financial help.

My plan is to be buried in a simple pine box with some flowers inside. But still it will be costly because of funeral arrangement, transportation to the gravesite, entombment, coordination, legal papers etc. However money is not really what I need, I want to say I love you.

I'd like to push back the darkness with my bravest effort. There will be a funeral posted here on the website, in case some of you want to attend. We are not sure of the date when I will die. Goodbye, farewell, we will meet again.

Goodbye, farewell, we'll meet again
Somewhere beyond the sky.
I pray that you will stay with God
Goodbye, my friends, goodbye.


Goodbye, Larry. And thank you.

Utopia indeed!

"A majority of people read the Bible in this [moralistic] spirit, as if it were a moral code clothed with sacred authority, a collection of prohibitions and instructions which would lead us, through our strict observance of them, to an existence free of guilt. Utopia indeed!"

Paul Tournier, Guilt & Grace, page 119.

Remembering Edward John Carnell

Tomorrow’s chapel service at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena will be devoted to “Remembering Edward John Carnell,” Fuller’s second President. I want to add my own small contribution to Dr. Carnell’s honored memory here.

I knew Dr. Carnell and his family personally. They lived about a block away. His son John is a dear friend to this day. The Carnell home was a gentle environment where I felt completely accepted. I spent many happy afternoons there hanging out after school. John and I would sit in his room reading books, talking and listening to KRLA and what are now known as “oldies.” There was a nook just off their kitchen where John and I would watch Soupy Sales while eating open-faced peanut butter sandwiches that Mrs. Carnell had kindly made. I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor of their front room listening to a 45 record of “Come Softly To Me” by The Fleetwoods on their hifi, with Dr. Carnell sitting there in his chair enjoying it with me. I had no idea he was a theological genius. I had no idea what the “Dr.” in front of his name meant. To me, he was the kindhearted father of my pal down the street.

Dr. Carnell stood courageously by my dad when some John Birchers in our church accused dad of having communist tendencies. (Yes, I know that’s crazy. But how crazy we can become, when our self-importance elects us the guardians of the world.) And one Sunday night, after my dad in his sermon called the people to rededicate their lives to Christ, Dr. Carnell was the first one to join my dad in his study, where both men got down on their knees together in prayer.

In Dr. Carnell’s inaugural address as Fuller’s President in 1955, he said something that by now I have come to understand and respect:

“Whoever meditates on the mystery of his own life will quickly realize why only God, the searcher of the secrets of the heart, can pass final judgment. We cannot judge what we have no access to. The self is a swirling conflict of fears, impulses, sentiments, interests, allergies, and foibles. It is a metaphysical given for which there is no easy rational explanation. Now if we cannot unveil the mystery of our own motives and affections, how much less can we unveil the mystery in others? That is, as we look into ourselves, we encounter the mystery of our own, the depths of our own selfhood. As we sing things like "Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings within and fears without, O Lamb of God, I come." And having recognized the mysteries that dwell in the very depths of our own being, how can we treat other people as if they were empty or superficial beings, without the same kind of mystery?”

Human eyes are not competent to judge human hearts. It is our responsibility to withhold personal judgments and to extend personal kindnesses.

I am thankful for Dr. Carnell and his lovely example of Christian gentlemanliness. In our coarsened age, men like him are so needed.

Dr. Carnell's books are being reprinted by Wipf and Stock: Link.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

I must take care -- by not taking too much care

"You ask me what I shall do if I am called by the emperor. I will go even if I am too sick to stand on my feet. If Caesar calls me, God calls me. If violence is used, as well it may be, I commend my cause to God. He lives and reigns who saved the three youths from the fiery furnace of the king of Babylon. And if he will not save me, my head is worth nothing compared with Christ. This is no time to think of safety. I must take care that the gospel is not brought into contempt by our fear to confess and seal our teaching with our blood."

Martin Luther, quoted in Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, page 174.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

I would like to do something

"O Jesus, fill me with Thy love now, and I beseech Thee, accept me, and use me a little for Thy glory. I have done nothing for Thee yet, and I would like to do something."

David Livingstone (1813-1873), missionary and explorer, writing in his diary in 1852, quoted in Iain H. Murray, The Puritan Hope, page 172.